Jacob S. Knabb is a true storyteller on the page, on the stage, and in real life. He is also an invaluable host and curator in Chicago’s literary scene and over the four years I’ve known Jacob, I’m grateful to have attended over a dozen of his events around the city. In 2013, he made NewCity’s Lit 50 for his work as Editor-In-Chief of Curbside Splendor. He currently lives in Lake Forest with his beautiful wife, young son, and their two small dogs.
A. Martinez:How did you become a storyteller? Was storytelling a big part of your childhood?
Jacob S. Knabb: My mother read to us when we were small and while my brother and sister both liked it I was enraptured. I would sit as long as she’d read, even as a toddler. I was an advanced reader and by 3rd Grade my dad would give me some of the books he was reading once he was done with them. So reading and narrative were addictions. But I also grew up in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia and most everyone there is a storyteller in one way or another. Ask for directions and you’ll learn about the people that live on the route and what happened the last time the person you asked went that way. People there still sort of thrive on the stories people tell about themselves and there is a lot of mythmaking going on. I learned that telling funny stories endeared me to people and over time I became the person people would turn to when they wanted to know what had happened with so-and-so or how crazy we had all gotten at a party. It just comes naturally to me. I link things instinctually and make puns and wordplay without trying. I’m always surprised at how my mind does that without me being in control of it. But my grandfather, Harold Ray “Tony” Ball is the one who got me wanting to tell stories to people as a form of entertainment. He always wanted me to learn guitar so I could play songs and tell jokes and share stories with people onstage. It was his vision for me and he’d tell me that every time I’d go back home to visit.
Martinez: What is one of the best stories you’ve heard and who told it?
Knabb: A story I’ve begun to refer to as “That’s Happiness” that was told to me by a 60-something year old creeker I met one night in a bar in my hometown called Clyde’s (which has since closed and is now a dance studio). It was after the fireworks on the last night of the annual Coal Fest and Clyde was about to close the bar. He’s an old guy who looks like an unfiltered Camel that was smoked down to the nub and then squashed into an ashtray, a Vietnam vet who was in the Navy with my father. He sort of liked me, or at least tolerated me enough to give me a free beer when I would go to his bar to drink. That night I came in as he was mopping and he let me drink there alone as long as I left him alone while he cleaned. As I was sitting there drinking a can of High Life the old creeker stuck his head in and asked Clyde if he was still open and Clyde said “fuck it why not” and set the dude up with a bottle of beer, I want to say it was Budweiser. The two of us sat there in silence and Clyde cleaned the floors and tables while we sipped our beers.
At that time I was fond of asking people, strangers mostly, deceptively complex questions when we found ourselves drinking side-by-side at a bar. I’d ask things that centered mostly on emotion, things like ‘You think people can truly regret anything?’ and usually they’d start waxing all philosophical in response. People want to tell you their thoughts, you know. Well that night I asked the old creeker “What’s happiness?” He sat there for a moment, long enough that I figured he wasn’t going to answer and then he told me a story about his son. This is more or less what he said:
“I had me a son once and his momma left us. We lived up at the head of a holler. He was best friends with this little girl that lived next door. The two of them was inseparable. The both had straight blonde hair and in the summer you could look out in the yard and see them playing there and you couldn’t tell them apart. Once they was in High School they became sweethearts. Even went to prom. On the day of his graduation I fucked her. He left and I kept on fuckin’ her. Then she left too. I ain’t heard from my son since. That’s happiness.”
I’ve told that story dozens of times and I never tell it the same way. I’ve never heard one as good before and I still am amazed by it. What I like to do is to end with that last line and make up the lead-up to it. I use it as a goal, a challenge to myself, to make up a story that is as good and that will get me into that bar so I can tell the old man’s story.
Martinez: You currently teach at Lake Forest College. What are you teaching there? And how does teaching influence your creative writing and editing?
Knabb: I was hired to help Lake Forest build a minor in Print and Digital Publishing. And to help grow their press. Teaching has no influence at all on writing or editing, I have to admit. It’s almost entirely the other way around. My students are very intelligent and motivated and they want to be excited about things. I love working with them and creating a yearning in them for literature and publishing. It’s very rewarding to be able to draw on my own experiences and to share my knowledge with them.
Martinez: I first met you at your show called “So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel”, which ran for some years at Hungry Brain and then Empty Bottle. Will you tell us about the origin and theme of this show?
Knabb: There’s this brilliant but somewhat insane writer and musician named CT Ballentine. He wrote and collaborated with the dude named Todd Dills who lives in Nashville and runs an online and print zine called THE2NDHAND. CT and Dills wanted to start up a storytelling show and CT believed strongly that the show should be about challenging writers to do something more than simply standing on stage and reading their work off of the page. CT is an obsessive and also a true believer. He has this baby face and wears bib overalls and looks like he’s right out of a Tom Waits song about beautiful and ruinous rubber tramps. Anyway, the phrase ‘nerves of steel’ kept echoing in his mind, over and over, and he kept saying it to Dills and that this was the name of the show and what they needed to focus on. CT saw me performing and wanted me to be the host. He was running sound at The Whistler and decided that would be where the show was held and that I would host it and that it would be called “So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?” How could I say no? I think CT wanted me to get into fist fights with the writers and for people to freak out. But right before we launched the first show CT had a mental break, cut off all of his hair, and vanished. They found him a few weeks later and he got back onto his meds and was ok. And the rest is sort of history of a small kind. We kept the theme of challenging writers to do things they weren’t comfortable with. And I grew it into a platform for myself to improvise in the persona of Harold Ray. Over time I made it into a variety show and it got fairly tight, in a ‘loaded to the gills’ kind of way.
Martinez:The host of your series was a country-singer-wannabe named Harold Ray. Who is Harold Ray and where did this character come from?
Knabb: The name Harold Ray is an homage to my grandfather and what he wanted me to to with my life. But the character is nothing like him. The real Harold Ray has never been drunk, is a family man and worker who was always proud of the muscles he had from hard labor. He builds things. He built his home. He built a house boat. And he plays guitar and sings old country songs.
I went in a different direction with my Harold Ray. I decided he would be the baser aspects of me, a version of myself that had never left WV, had become a grizzled drinker, and wanted to cheat and trick on the way to success. I felt Harold Ray would long to be a famous singer but would be too lazy and unfocused to actually practice guitar and songwriting. Instead he would pretend that he had written songs that were already famous or successful. This gave me a great gag and an excuse to sing Johnny Cash and Neil Young and Waylon Jennings and Garth Brooks songs. It also gave me an outlet to tell a lot of the crazy stories I’ve gathered over the year and to sort of spin tall tales about people I’ve known. As I did the show the character grew more focused and it was very simple to be ‘in character’ and to put the persona on like an old denim jacket. The only catch was being in that character was costly to me physically. It meant I had an excuse to drink and I’m an alcoholic. There were many nights where I’d black out before the show was over. Which makes perfect sense in the world of the show and for the character but is hell on me personally. I just couldn’t keep it up.
Martinez: How did you get into hosting all these literary events?
Knabb: I was born to stand on stage and say things to a room full of people. It’s why I’m a good teacher. It’s what would also make me a good actor or salesman or game show host if I had the focus and dedication and passion required to actually pursue those things.
Martinez: What is your main role Editor-In-Chief at Curbside Splendor?
Knabb: I’m responsible for tons of things, really. I am primarily responsible for book acquisitions so our catalog is very much a manifestation of my artistic vision and sense of what makes a good book. I work with designers on the book covers and art direction. I oversee the editorial staff and publicity folks. I set up events and tours and sell on trade show floors. I do a little bit of everything. My partner in the enterprise, the publisher of Curbside Victor David Giron, is very similar. He’s also involved in everything we do. And we have some other talented people working to make Curbside live and grow, people like Naomi Huffman and Ben Tanzer, Catherine Eves and Emma Mae Brown, Alban Fisher and Leonard Vance. I work with all of them and a lot of other folks to keep Curbside going. It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had and I’m obsessed with it. All of the energy I used to expend drinking and wasting time now are spent on Curbside.
Martinez:Curbside Splendor really comes up with some interesting events including your pop-up book fairs and variety shows- how do you curate these events? And do you take inspiration from other events?
Knabb: I steal from everyone. I’m a magpie. If someone has a good idea, or a concept I like, I take it and adapt it to my own events. So I’m influenced by tons of people. My approach to curation is to keep things simple. Be organized as much as possible. Save everything so it’s accessible. And network like a motherfucker so you can work with cool people. I’m also a bit of a control freak and it’s been tough for me to let go of the reigns though I’ve learned to do that. I make the flyers, put together the talent, create the concept, talk with the venue, work the room night of, host the damned thing, and sit around with the bar staff for a drink afterward. Top to bottom. I want to be embroiled in all of it.
Martinez: What other publishers/literary collectives/lit events do you think are doing some interesting things in the city?
Knabb: Curbside and Lake Forest, though I have a great idea for a short novel and want to write the bulk of it over the summer.
Martinez: Is there a piece of advice, lit-related or not that you think of often?
Knabb: Recently my pawpaw Harold Ray has begun saying the same thing over and over and it is this: “You’re never going to be as young as you are right now.” And in times of stress when something must be gotten through or endured my father will say “Well, a man could stand on his head for that long if he had to.” I think of those two things all the time.
All photos courtesy of the artist.
A.Martinez is a freelance art and music organizer living in Chicago, IL.
It’s official, Chicago artists are back from their residencies and vision quests and it is time for the fall gallery season. Inaugurated this weekend with about a million openings from River North to the ‘burbs and back again, we’re still reeling. Here are some photos while we iron out our thoughts:
Oh, this brave new art world! We didn’t know QR codes could actually do something but this interactive curiosity greets you at the entrance to Technoromanticism, a strictly new media show curated by Alfredo Salazar-Caro at Jean Albano Gallery on Friday night.
Performance finally showed some skin at the second iteration of THIS IS NOW A MAGAZINE: Dwyer/Fraccaro/Wylie in Logan Square last week. Things were anything but comfortable at the Comfort Station during a performance using CAM4 and something having to do with Buffalo Bill that we wish we could erase.
This pink combo stole our heart at LVL’s opening for Quandry on Saturday night.
Volume Gallery debuted their completely amazing and beautiful renovated space on Friday night with a show by Jonathan Muecke. Despite all the new space (or maybe because of it) the gallery was totally packed. This photo is from SightUnseen
Tyson Reeder’s opening at Peregrine Program celebrated some of Club Nutz greatest hits, and reminded us that we need to hit the beach one last time before fall!
Sterling Lawrence was super conceptual and all, but we thought these Alain Biltereyst pieces at Devening Projects + Editions were cute in a good way and would fit way better in my studio apartment.
Cave of Lascaux blows everyones mind: Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux at the Field Museum closed this weekend and if you didn’t make it we are truly sorry. This show had more new media than the SAIC BFA exhibition and we swear those cave paintings could be hanging in Shane Campbell and no one would bat an eye. We would go into greater detail, but fortunately for you, dear reader, Daniel Baird’s already wrote a piece on the exhibition and it is awesome. Who knew that ancient cave paintings were so totally superficial? Totes recommend you read it, we’ve been using Dan’s ideas to sound smart at openings all weekend.
Woman makes strong case for ladies:
In case you couldn’t tell, WTT? loves the ladies, and we couldn’t be more excited to see the rest of the art world catching on. One lady show opened up this weekend with two to follow next week at Heaven and at the Frogman Gallery. “Lady Painters” curator, Gwendolyn Zabicki, sent us a hot tip on some required reading by participating artist, Sarah Weber. “Had I written a critical essay for Lady Painters, I would have liked to have written the very excellent one by Sarah Weber for Being a Woman in an All Woman Show.” WTT? couldn’t agree more. You can prep for both of these openings next weekend by reading Weber’s statement now.
Art Newspaper on artists in newspapers:
Writer, Martin Bailey, covers the seriously late breaking news of Van Gogh’s ear incident after re-discovering an article from the Parisian paper Le Petite Journal published shortly after the incident on December 26, 1888. While doing research for his book on the artist, Bailey discovered the clipping, shedding new light on possibly the best artist gossip of all time. Making news in Paris all the way from Arles? Van Gogh is just lucky that the Impressionists didn’t have Facebook.
Stop by LVL3’s MRKT and pick up a FREE copy of San Fransisco Arts Quarterly featuring an interview with the gallery’s director, Vincent Uribe, and artist, Josh Reames.
Artists confused, think they are musicians
Visual artists do unthinkable and create sound
Last Thursday night WTT? made our first outing to Constellation. The venue’s unassuming brick facade under the overpass on Belmont and Western betrays the clean yet cozy interior of the bar. Intent on seeing live music on a Thursday night, Constellation was a great option. That is to say, the show was free. This art reporter was intrigued by the line-up: two reasonably well known visual artists (1/2 of Sonnenzimmer, Nick Bucher, and recent Hatch resident, Jordan Martins) performing with Constellation’s purveyor, Mike Reed, on drums.
Not to be mistaken for real musicians, the artists turnt virtuosos played an assortment of objects that would have made any dadaist proud.
Martins started the set playing guitar, but soon switched over to two broken guitar necks on a table which he “played” by jamming screwdrivers between the strings while strumming with chopsticks. Butcher wasn’t any more conventional “playing” a record player and what looked like a jumble of assorted cables that we’re not even sure were plugged in.
Even real musician, Mike Reed, got into the readymade spirit. It was weird enough that he played the drums with a tiny rake, but what was next to the drums was a regular Duchamp. Was it a rice cooker on a styrofoam cooler? Some instrument we’ve never seen before? We’re still not sure.
Despite using what appeared to be broken instrument pieces and household bric-a-brac, the trio was other wordly, playing a set that meandered through melodic ups and downs, punctuated by Butcher’s off beat electronics. Super chill for a Thursday night, I just wish they had better cocktails. (The Pimm’s cup was alright.)
Constellation is located at 3111 N Western Ave.
Header image is a photograph from inside Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux at the Field Museum.
The following article was originally written for and published by Chicago Artist Writers //Â Editor: Jason Lazarus
Weird Dude Energy curators Gurl Don’t Be Dumb: Eileen Mueller and Jamie Steele
Andrew Mausert-Mooney & Nicholas Wylie, performance view
Acrostic, original formatting via PDFÂ here. Sources liberally appropriated from the Internet.Â
Walter Benjamin |Â Â At the center of this exhibition is man. Present-day man; a reduced man, therefore, chilled in a chilly environment. Since, however, this is the only one we have, it is in our interest to know him. He is subjected to tests, examinations. What emerges is this: Weird Dude Energy (WDE), a layering of men, a group perspective on masculinity.
Wilde, Oscar | Â Â Â Â But is WDE, as a meme/concept, actually on display in this show, or only in theÂ title and statement? Is GDBD curating a show of WDE, or instead the passion ofÂ oneâ€™s friends? Thereâ€™s crossover, and it may all be equalâ€”those passions are the fascinating things IRL anyway. For me, the highlight was Andrew Mausert-Mooney & Nicholas Wylieâ€™s performance of foot washing, massage, andÂ chantingÂ of â€œPoor Unfortunate Soulsâ€ from The Little Mermaid. It had the dignity of aÂ ceremony, as well as its unreality, and combined the insincereÂ character of aÂ romantic movie with the wit and beauty that make such moviesÂ delightful to us. IsÂ insincerity really such a terrible thing?
Weiner, Anthony | Â Itâ€™s passion thatâ€™s a terrible thing, and letâ€™s just forget about online WDE. Letâ€™sÂ recalculate, letâ€™s talk this show. Now Andrew Doakâ€™s photo: I don’t know whereÂ that photograph came from. I donâ€™t know for sure whatâ€™s in it. Â I donâ€™t know forÂ sure if it was manipulated. And Iâ€™m going to get to the firm bottom of that.
Eagleton, Terry | Â Â Â Donâ€™t know Doak? Itâ€™s a self-portrait as John Belushiâ€™s character in AnimalÂ House, from the artistâ€™s ongoing portraiture project. There are several orphaned pieces in WDE, but Iâ€™ll admit that this one does suffer the most for it. Oli Rodriguezâ€™s photographic portrait integrates well with the other work, evenÂ though it is de-linked from the S&M series itâ€™s part of. The problem is, what weÂ consume now is not objects or events, but our experience of them. We buy anÂ experience like we can pick up a GBDB beer coozie ($2.00 at the opening).
Immanuel, Kant | Â Â Â Sure, thereâ€™s no doubt that all knowledge begins with experience. Thatâ€™s why IÂ bought three. But reading about the Weird Dude Energy Tumblr that was theÂ inspiration for the show, I learned two things on the Hyperallergic comment thread: first, apparently no one reads my books anymore; and second, â€œYoungÂ people’s ideas about whatever is cool can have a conversation with contemporaryÂ art.â€ If you canâ€™t deal with merch and memes, fine, how about Mike Reaâ€™sÂ virtuosic wood installation: jail cell/microphone/and, inevitably, glory hole? OutÂ of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.
Rahm, Emanuel | Â Â Â Fucking retarded. Take your fucking tampon out and tell me what you have toÂ say. Best was Ivan Lozanoâ€™s installation of glowing blue hands on poles. ItÂ reminds me of when I sliced off my finger working at Arbyâ€™s, went swimming in Lake Michigan, and got gangrene. Thatâ€™s when I decided to become king ofÂ Chicago. Lozano fucked up his hand and made some casts based on not beingÂ able to move. Same idea, different goal. You should never let a serious crisis goÂ to waste.
Derrida, Jacques | Â Â Â Can we not talk about biography, please? Stick to the work! Look at how theÂ handsâ€™ blue glow syncs with Zak Arctanderâ€™s red tinted photo of the young man in a Vans cap, shown from his chest up. Whatever precautions you take so the photograph will look like this or that, there comes a moment when thatÂ photograph surprises you. Itâ€™s the other’s gaze that wins out and decidesâ€”whichÂ Arctander must be thinking about because look, he made sure the manâ€™s eyes areÂ covered by his cap! Rrose, with your own compromised intuitions, what did youÂ like?
Duchamp, Marcel | Â Â I just likeâ€”breathing. Itâ€™s so necessary that I donâ€™t question it.
Umberto, Eco | Â Â Â Â Â You are odd. Weird, I mean; but then, itâ€™s only petty men who seem normal.Â Didnâ€™t you like Alex Gartelmannâ€™s limp aluminum baseball bat, bent over a wooden peg? A mash-up of your own readymades and an â€˜80s sculptural phallus, a strong piece with good position.
Duchamp, Marcel | Â I donâ€™t believe in art, I believe in artists and the most interesting thing aboutÂ artists is how they live. All this twaddle are pieces of a chess game calledÂ language.
Eco, Umberto | Â Â Â Â Â Perhapsâ€¦. Maybe Iâ€™mâ€”maybe all this is not as wise as it likes to think it is. And if Jacquesâ€™s right about epistemic plurality, is this some eternal zugzwang, asÂ you chess people say? Itâ€™s true that the most interesting letters I receive are from people in the Midwest, people like the lone figure in John Operaâ€™s lovely, desolate Wisconsin landscape. So letâ€™s turn to their official sources instead!
Newcity Art (B. Stabler)| A variety of manly tensions are borne out by the juxtapositions in the group show â€œWeird Dude Energy.â€ In the end, thereâ€™s just nothing that says “competence” like a great curatorial concept enjoyably, even suavely, executed.
Jason Foumberg | Â Â Â Weird Dude Energy, a concept and an exhibition, probes the unkempt desires ofÂ men. Â You know how guys act when theyâ€™re all together, without womenÂ around? Â This show amplifies that vibe with work from 17 male artists.
You + Yr Friends | Â Â Â _________________________________________________________________________
Left: Alex Gartelmann, Over and Over and Over, 2011, installation view. Right: Zak Arctander, Firehouse, 2013
Ivan LOZANO, MILAGROS I, MILAGROS II, and MILAGROS III, 2012, installation view
James Pepper Kelly likes words, images, and the plants in his apartment. He serves as Managing Director of Filter Photo and is studying to be a pataphysicist. For a little while, back in the early â€˜00s, he was really good at Ms. Pac-man.Â
Chicago Artist Writers is a platform that asks young studio artists and art workers to write traditional and experimental criticism that serves under-represented arts programming in Chicago. CAW was founded by Jason Lazarus and Sofia Leiby in 2012. This is our first guest post on Bad at Sports.Â www.chicagoartistwriters.com
Ever had a week where you put too much on your plate? Only me? Well this weekend we can all take it a bit easier but in the mean time here are some things you might have missed while trying to be well rounded.
Lets start with Newcity (what no longer using my YCDToT green color scheme?, reds nice to I guess 🙂 who had a interesting article a while back about the Spice Barrel District in Near South Chicago being turned into a Creative Industries District for galleries, studios, fashionÂ warehouses & other design/visual art incubator projectsÂ is getting more attention on many sites and news articles as the story continues to grow and is worth a look if you missed it. Read more here
Pantone releases next years designer colors for both Men & Women; seems Beeswax will be the hot word this spring lol. Read more here
Why no artist should underestimate the toxcisity of chemicals and value of good ventalation, even though I still refuse to wear gloves while I paint with Flake White or Cobalt Violet. What can I say I prefer to do it nude. Read more here
Swedish outfit calledÂ TAT (The Astonishing Tribe) made a highly believable video on portable media ID in 2014 (is it just me that finds it odd thats not far off?) which the least likely aspect isn’t the mirror with email but that Apple still makes a non portable OS? Read more here
The Perfect table after a overly packed week for the person on the move, a zen water ripple table that you can drink tea on and the ripples are real, even in California. So lets say your a young British man who’s been working on you house for some time, teaching classes and making art to pay the bills and trying to expand your art career all at the same time but just ran out of Tetley’s well worry not atleast you will be relaxed while you struggle to swallow what passes for tea in the States. Read more here
This is actually more of a stealth-rant, deploying reverse-psychology tactics and appeals to the culprit’s sense of fair play. Some creep stole an artwork by Chicago artist Damien James right off the walls of the Flatiron building, and what’s worse, the piece had already been sold.
“My initial reaction, not surprisingly, was anger. Intense, red piping-hot anger. â€œWhat the fuck!?â€ were my words, to be exact, extra emphasis on the â€œf.â€ Who steals art at a small neighborhood show? From an â€œemergingâ€ artist? (â€Emergingâ€ = â€œstarvingâ€) Even more, who steals a piece of art thatâ€™s already been sold? Now I know it was small, and as you passed by, maybe you thought it would fit perfectly in your bag or pocket or whatever, but did you not see the sticker above the drawing that said â€œsold?â€ Could you not have chosen a piece that hadnâ€™t already been paid for? Because you see, some artists who do shows in the Flat Iron, especially in the halls of the Flat Iron, are struggling; theyâ€™re artists who are desperately trying to carve out some tiny, peaceful existence. Weâ€™re trying to do something good, to make and share something outside the ever-present web of invasive consumerist insanity. I get (but donâ€™t condone) stealing an iPhone, an X-Box, cash; but a drawing? Not only did you steal something I made, but you took money out of my pocket. So: what the fuck!?
Really, what were you thinking? Was it, â€œthisâ€™ll look awesome on my bathroom wall?â€ Was it the thrill of stealing something? Are you some kind of Vincenzo Peruggia? Whatâ€™s next, a Steven Soderbergh art-heist caper?”
Hats off to James for channeling his justifiable rage into a piece that actually transcends the circumstances behind this unfortunate incident to say something larger about the need to show some basic human decency, even if you’re drunk off your ass, and even (especially) when it comes to small art shows at neighborhood galleries.